Earthbound was a pretty great, funny game about kids who save the world from aliens through courage and baseball bats. It has certainly left a lasting impression, as evidenced by the still prevalent boom in indie RPGs and Kickstarters citing it as an influence. I assumed that Mother 3 (a.k.a. Earthbound 2, never released outside of Japan) would be more of the same. I was wrong.
Maybe mild spoilers to follow.
If Earthbound was a game about hope, it’s sequel is a game about loss. Loss of old ways of life in the face of aggressive modernity and consumerism. More personally for the various characters you control, it’s about a family torn apart, simply for choosing the wrong night to walk home through a usually peaceful forest.
That the first chapter is called ‘Night of the Funeral’ should prepare you for the worst, yet by casting you as a father, whose whole family has gone missing in the woods, couples the inevitability with a mounting dread as the situation worsens. You know it’s going to end badly, but just how badly is left to play on your imagination as you plunge further into the forest in search of them.
However, games aren’t supposed to be all out depressing, and Mother 3 successfully counters all of its heavy themes with an all-round pleasantness. The world and it’s characters are so likeable, and so fully realised, and above all so creatively odd, that you want to keep going for their sake. It’s so damn charming. The save points are talking frogs! I just me one who was driving around town in a tiny sports car, but still willing to stop and let me save my game.
Also, I remember Earthbound’s battles being a bit dry. The designers probably thought this too, and decided to augment the whole thing with rhythm game aspects. It’s so fun, I wish all turn based RPGs would do the same.
Although I suspect bigger plots are afoot, the standout villain of Chapter 3, leading into Chapter 4 via a surprising, world-changing 3 year timeskip, is Fassad, a slimy overweight rich guy, determined to bring capitalism and conformity to the small town you live in, controlling peoples minds through total control of the media, and turning lifelong neighbours against one another if they won’t subscribe to his ideology of selfish enrichment at the expense of others.
Plus he’s all about torture.
Perhaps I inadvertently chose just the right game to finally get round to playing in 2017…
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